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Wednesday, 2 October, 2002, 14:18 GMT 15:18 UK
Kidnapped Betancourt 'could be dead'
Betancourt speaks on a video apparently made by her captors
Betancourt was last seen on a video tape shot in May
The family and political party of former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt has demanded information from the government or her captors regarding rumours that she is ill or even dead.


My heart tells me that Ingrid is alive... [but] she could be sick

Betancourt's mother Yolanda Pulecio
Ms Betancourt, a candidate for the small Oxygen-Green movement, was kidnapped along with her running mate Clara Rojas in February by guerrilla group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

They had ventured into territory held by the group despite warnings regarding their safety.

The last confirmed sighting of Ms Betancourt was in July this year, when a video of both women, apparently recorded two months earlier, was played on a small Colombian television station.

Ill-health rumours

Her mother, Yolanda Pulecio, said that the family had asked for proof of life from the guerrillas.

FARC rebels
FARC wants to exchange Betancourt and others for imprisoned rebels

"We've heard lots of rumours from all sides, but we're not sure about anything," she told Reuters news agency.

"My heart tells me that Ingrid is alive... [but] she could be sick."

The reports began after a 15-year-old girl, reportedly a defector from FARC, told a Colombian television news programme that she had heard fellow guerrillas discussing how the politician had fallen ill and died before being buried in Planadas, a town about 180 miles (300km) south of the capital, Bogota.

Rumours regarding her ill-health had reportedly been circulating for weeks, with some saying that Ms Betancourt had been taken to hospital by the rebels after contracting a severe illness, possibly malaria.

'Swaps' rejected

Ms Betancourt's kidnapping occurred three days after the government of then-President Andres Pastrana called off talks with the FARC following a plane hijack by the group.

The rebels had been holding Ms Betancourt and Ms Rojas, in addition to five congressmen and the governor Antioquia province, with the aim of swapping them for rebel commanders being held in Colombian prisons.

However last week the new Colombian Government, under hardline President Alvaro Uribe, rejected the possibility of such a swap, saying that continued violence by guerrilla groups had made it impossible to reach any form of agreement.

Mr Uribe himself called for "prudence" regarding "these rumours" of Ms Betancourt's death, and his Defence Minister, Martha Lucia Ramirez, said that according to military and police commands the story was not true, Spanish news agency Efe reported.

More people are kidnapped in Colombia than any other country in the world, with more than 2,000 people kidnapped in the first eight months of this year alone.


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